It started with a trip to the bank. After all, you can’t go on holiday without spending money and as my spare change jar was seriously overflowing (having not been emptied for a considerable while) I felt it was about time I got it all exchanged for some nice, crisp notes. So I counted it all out, separating the coins into neat little piles and placing them all in separate little bags that were then clearly labeled with how much they had in them… And quite frankly it’s an improvement on the last time I emptied the money jar where I just took it all in one lump sum and dumped it on a rather displeased cashier. But they accepted it that time (when I was playing the role of truly abysmal customer) so there was little reason to suspect they wouldn’t accept it this time… But they decided they would get awkward. Although my money was bagged, labelled and sorted so that it could be readily exchanged for some reason I was told they wouldn’t accept it like that, despite the fact that I’d previously brought in money that was loose, the money had to be in their bags rather than my little up zip ones… Something to do with some petty bureaucratic rule I shouldn’t wonder.
There was no reason for them not to accept it. After all, they are a bank. They are supposed to deal in money, regardless of how it comes to them. Having someone come up to the counter with several bags of change, no matter the bags, should be an acceptable, daily occurrence, especially if they are clearly bagged and labelled. They did have a coin machine though and because I still look young enough to get away with what is commonly called ‘youthful inexperience’ they got one of the bank clerks to show me how to use it… Although for some reason I had to pay it into my account rather than just getting the cash straight off. Then the machine filled up and so they had to get someone empty it before I could pay the rest of my cash in.
After more than fifteen minutes (It should have been less than five) I had all the money I need for three days completely cut off from all civilization; three days without writing, video filming, editing or any of the usual stuff; Three days with no Facebook, Twitter or internet; Three days of a city that is so packed full of history that you could spend a whole year there and never even scratch the surface- YORK!
Now getting to York should be as simple as boarding a train and getting off at the other end… But today (about a week after the bank incident, during which I may have kinda sorta spent some of the money on Skyrim,) it seems as if somebody may be actively trying to prevent me from reaching York. I leave the house in good time, reach the bus stop and find the next bus isn’t due for another hour. Sensing something may be up with the info display I wait a few minutes… But with no sign of a bus and with a train to catch a decision must be made. I can either wait for a bus that may never come or I can walk to the next stop in the hope that it’s just the one info display that’s potentially gone up the cracker and I can at least confirm there is a bus on the way.
I take the latter option but upon reaching the next stop my hopes of getting on any bus any time soon are dashed This info display really has gone up the cracker as it’s completely blank. Again, there’s the choice of waiting for a bus (that may never come) or hiking/jogging three miles in forty five minutes in order to get to the train station… I only saw one bus in all that walk but it was going the wrong way so doesn’t count.
It’s a long walk but I make it to the station with a few minutes to spare, knackered and not pleased about the bus thing, only to almost get onto the wrong platform (I was in a hurry and my brain wasn’t working.) And then to add insult to injury I find I needn’t have hurried as much as I actually did because the train was delayed by fifteen minutes. It turns up half an hour late but there’s no need to worry, it should be a straight ride all the way to York.
It isn’t a straight ride to York. The train is scheduled to go all the way to Scarborough but by Stalybridge the driver is announcing that for one reason or another (something to do with the previous delay but no other explanation is given) that it isn’t quite going that far. It’s stopping at York. For me that’s not much of a problem as the train will still take me where I’m going. At the very least it’s not too far from the end of the line for the poor unfortunate buggers going to Scarborough. It’s not exactly good for them but it could be worse…
And then it does get worse as at the next stop the driver announces the train will stop in fecking Leeds. LEEDS! Now, unfortunately, I’m just like those poor unfortunate buggers going to Scarborough (only they have it even more worse because now they are even further away from their destination than they would have otherwise been. And, alas, Leeds isn’t a tiny station. It’s a major interchange and I, along with everybody else on the train apart from the driver (yes, including the ticket inspector and the lady who brings the trolley), are left stranded on the platform with no clue as to what has happened or what to do next. At least there’s another train coming that passes through York..
A nearby destination board mentions York but it has no platform number or departure time, which only serves to fuel the anxiety and the worry and the fear that’s been generated by the dumping of an entire train load of passengers on the platform of Leeds railway station. After a few minutes of standing amongst people going out of their minds whilst staring at the departure board I come to the conclusion it’s not worth my while standing around doing Jack and set off to find something to drink and maybe explore the station. But no sooner have I started to do this when there’s a sudden stampede behind me followed by cries of ‘Platform 5b! Platform 5b!’ and then a whole gaggle of formerly stranded passengers rushing past.
Rather than blindly follow I do double check on the board and sure enough the next train to York departs from 5b in about eight minutes. This one goes all the way to Newcastle and is rammed tighter than a tin of sardines so I have to stand. The downside to this is that I’m pushed against the door to first class with other people pushed against the other side (that is how full this mid morning train to Newcastle was… Because it had all the people who had been on that train originally + the ones who were boarding at Leeds + the occupants of the previous train who were going to York and Scarborough.) A lady on the other side accidentally leans on the button and without warning the doors open and I find myself, luggage and all, being sucked backwards into first class. I attempt to right myself as I fall but on a moving train that’s a recipe for disaster and I end up splatting between a pole and the edge of the door with the lady the other side of the door looking at me as though I’ve just spewed in her afternoon tea, even though she was the one who pressed the button. The rest of the journey is without incident.
Eventually, after a mammoth expedition; crossing Hell on foot, riding out east to Leeds and then having to switch trains, I at last reach York- Granted though, those passengers who were travelling onto Scarborough had it rougher as they still hadn’t reached their destination. As for me I am finally in my natural habitat, the place where I was born (though I was only here a week). I’m in a city I love and a city full of everything I could ever want. Known to the Romans as Eboracum, the Saxon’s as Eoforwic and the Vikings as Jorvik, this city probably has more history than any other in the UK (outside London.) I’ve been here a few times over the years but I’ve never really had the opportunity to properly explore the place before. Those previous visits have all been day visits (or less) and a day in York isn’t nearly long enough (a lifetime wouldn’t be enough in all truth) so this is my first chance to get really stuck into it all.
The first thing I notice is the smell of the railway station. Not a bad smell but rather the smell of ancient trains, the smell of a long forgotten world when places like York station were filled with smoke and steam and trains that had at least one murder victim in every carriage (according to Agatha Christie logic.) That smell is a beautiful throwback to days gone by and although I’d love to say it is left over from day’s gone by in actuality it’s probably drifting in from the National Railway Museum next door (they have little steam train demonstrations.)
As I get out of the station and into the city I find that it’s not only the station that has a smell, it’s the whole city. Around every corner there is some new scent or aroma; around one corner it may be fresh baking or the smell of roasting meat and around the next it might be chocolate or something else entirely. I’ve never noticed it when I’ve been here before but now I do it’s simply glorious. It doesn’t last though as very soon all the smells become so commonplace that I just stop noticing them, which is sad because whilst they lasted they were something special. They made York stand out from all the other places in the world. Nowhere else I’ve been has had such an aromatic impression.
But York doesn’t need those aromas to stand out… It does that all by itself. Admittedly the area immediately outside the station isn’t much to shout about and even the nearby section of wall (which can’t actually be accessed from here… The nearest point is a short walk towards the river, and even then can only be accessed from one side of the road, which I find is not the side I am on and I can’t actually get there without playing chicken with a bus) is little more impressive than the walls of other cities, Chester for instance. There isn’t much that is exciting in this part of the city… It’s all modern office blocks and trendy café bars and people in business suits wandering the streets with absolute contempt for every other pedestrian around. Once over the River Ouse you find yourself in a whole different world. Modernity just melts away into a network of winding streets and narrow alleyways and gorgeous architecture.
I spend a good few hours wandering around, getting to know the city and exploring. I first take a stroll around the Museum Gardens (although I don’t go inside the Museum itself) and enjoy the sunshine. There’s a little Falconry display going on so I watch for a bit, take some photos and then head further into the city, soon finding myself outside the Mayoral residence (the Mansion House) and then skirting down the next road before coming across the city market, Newgate.
It’s about as good as any market I’ve found anywhere, as good as Bolton but perhaps better because this one is entirely outdoors and open every day, not just for half the week. It’s a reasonable size as well, tucked into a large square that’s surrounded on all sides by buildings. It’s how a market should be, lot’s of stalls selling all sorts from flowers (good if you want to be romantic) to fruits and vegetables (not so romantic) and down to meats and phone covers and posters and the likes thrown in alongside. There’s even a stall selling second hand books. It’s sad that not everywhere in Britain has a market like this one anymore. A lot of them are now nothing more than a few permanent stalls crammed into an old crumbling building, as in Chester or Lancaster, and all of Manchester’s best markets (like the Christmas Market) are floating ones so it’s quite nice to find that this place is still here. There should be more markets like this and it’s a shame they’re so few and far between.
I find myself wandering down the Shambles (oldest street in York) and half way along pick up a leaflet for something called the ‘Cat Trail.’ There are these cat statuettes stuck on buildings all over the city and although I don’t go on the trail itself I do keep my eye out over the next few days. I find four or five in total. It’s good fun and you could probably spend a whole day walking the streets looking for pussies but I don’t really have the time as there is so much else to do.
After my wander I decide it’s time to get a drink and some food… Now there is a place I’ve heard of that I simply must check out, The Guy Fawkes Inn. Supposedly it’s where, in 1570, notorious gunpowder plotter Guy Fawkes was born. Considering every person in Britain knows his name and the date of his capture (the day and month at least… Fewer probably know the year) to drink in the place where he was born is an opportunity not to be missed. I know that it’s somewhere near the Minster so I head up that way and then start my search. But for some reason I can’t find it… I know it’s here somewhere but where it is soon becomes something of a mystery. I check down every street and every alleyway but it’s nowhere to be found. I eventually end up going around in circles just looking for this one inn. I even check some maps to see if there is any street I missed but it doesn’t seem that way.
In the end I give up looking (adamantly refusing to ask for directions… That would be admitting defeat,) and buy myself a ham sandwich from a little deli and I eat it in the Minster Gardens before I find myself in what claims to be York’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Starre Inn. It’s a well hidden, proper pub type place and I’m soon picking the darkest corner I can find in order to vampirically shelter from the sunlight. And to just sit there, drinking my pint with no worries about work or what needs finishing or filming or editing is just bliss. For once all is right with the world and this is, quite honestly, the best I’ve felt for a while.
My time sitting here is short-lived though. Once my pint is done it’s time for me to be checking into my accommodation… Which is a fair distance from the city centre. It’s up north from the main and through what I can only describe as one of the most sickeningly middle class areas I’ve ever encountered, The kind of place where half the population drive around in Lexus cars and the other half cycle everywhere and they all eat quinoa (WTF is quinoa anyway?) and name their children Tarquin and Bathsheba… There’s even a quaint looking country style pub called The Old Grey Mare (but she ain’t what she used to be). You only get quaint country style pubs in an urban environment if it is a heavily middle class area… Any other area and the pubs are always less country (and believe me… You can tell. A country pub is usually a lot more quaint and picture postcard than any other type of pub. A typical urban pub is usually smaller and more humble/seedy looking. Nine times out of ten they can be found on a street corner.) Anyway… It’s a short enough walk and I reach my destination without a problem. I’ve decided to slum it one final time and go for the budget option of a youth hostel…
But as I walk up the drive I realise that the place looks like something from a horror movie and all sorts of things concerning unsolved murders and brutal stabbings in the basement flash through my mind. Thankfully the main entrance (which is around the corner) is a modern, nice looking glass conservatory style thing and the interior is all fairly modern (IE: non murdery) as well. I rest here for an hour or so, alone in my room and wondering what sort of people I’ll be sharing with. It turns out later that they aren’t as bad as you can sometimes get in such places (lest we remember the sleep talking German of Bristol YHA) but I don’t spend much time here so I don’t really get to know anybody. But they seemed pleasant enough characters. Once rested and after reading something about the Flying Scotsman I decide it’s time to get back to the city and find myself some evening’s entertainment.
I get back along a path running alongside the Ouse, upon which there are many rowers from a nearby private school, and at the end, before the city, I find myself on Dame Judi Dench Walk. I immediately love the fact that Dame Judi Dench has a little bit York all to herself but very soon I find myself dropping the ‘walk’ part and just referring to it as Dame Judi Dench. There are some lovely terraced houses here and quite frankly I would like to live on Dame Judi Dench if I ever get the chance. It’s probably fair to say though that, sadly, they don’t come onto the market very often and my chances of actually living on Dame Judi Dench are close to nill.
Once off Dame Judi Dench and back in the city I find myself picking up a leaflet for one of the city’s many ghost walks, this one is called The Ghost Walk Of York, and it looks like it could be a laugh so I decide it’ll be worth checking out. Even if it turns out to be absolutely terrible and ridiculous it’ll be worth it for the entertainment value alone. But as it doesn’t start for a few hours I have time to kill and decide to look for somewhere I can get a proper early evening meal.
This is where I find myself in York’s Latin Quarter… Yes, LATIN QUARTER. The fact that this exists is a testament to York’s brilliance… There really is everything you could ever want here and probably more. The Latin quarter is full of cheery looking tapas bars, places offering Salsa lessons and places selling pizza and pasta and bruchettas. It’s tempting to try one of them out but it’s not what I’m after right now. Truth be told I don’t know what I want… but it isn’t anything that can’t be found elsewhere so after looking round the Latin Quarter and at a few of the menus for a while I start to move on to see what I can find elsewhere.
The next occurrence has no one and nothing to blame but my own Britishness and the need to be exceptionally polite. I’m standing outside this restaurant on the edge of the Latin Quarter looking at a board advertising a fish meal called ‘the codfather.’ I was going to take a picture of the sign but when I look up there’s a waitress lady inside staring at me. Feeling that I couldn’t exactly walk away at this stage (it would look rude) I go inside and ask the waitress lady for a menu… I suddenly find myself being seated at the nearest table and given a menu full of very expensive food that doesn’t sound very appetising and are nothing more than you can get in your average chip shop. I scan through it but am barely given enough time to decide to get the flip out before the waitress lady comes back and tries to take my order. But rather than just apologise, hand the menu back and leave (which would be really awkward at this point) I decide to actually buy something… Thinking that a plate of chips and a drink will be reasonably cheap (A side order of chips is usually very cheap, even in expensive restaurants, only ever a couple of pounds at the most) that is what I order… Although I can’t actually find the single portion on the menu. The reason it wasn’t there shall become clear.
What arrives five minutes later is a plate so massive and piled so high with proper, thickly cut, grease ridden chips that it makes my stomach churn. But there’s no point arguing… This is what I asked for so I better well eat it. And eat it I do, attempting to not look like a total slob by using a knife and fork. Normally with something like this I’d just use my fingers (knives and forks are a total waste for some foods as far as I’m concerned… It’s more natural to use your fingers but thanks to the society we live in it’s no longer deemed acceptable or ‘civilised’) but as I’m in a proper restaurant type place that is not an option so it’s knife and fork all the way… And trust me, eating a large plate of chips with a knife and fork feels about as ridiculous as it sounds. I eventually work my way to the bottom of the plate and then ask if I can pay. Remember… I have had one plate of chips and a drink so it shouldn’t be too expensive. It comes to £5.80… Which for what I ordered is horrifyingly ridiculous. No wonder the chips weren’t mentioned on the menu. Quite frankly I’ve been ripped off although I probably deserve it for being excessively polite. The moral is to always check the menu thoroughly before ordering… And if you can’t find what you want or it looks too expensive get the hell out.
Given the price of my meal I’m tempted to avoid the ghost walk for tonight but given that I also need to burn off the excessive calories and have nothing better to do I decide that I will go on it. There’s still a bit of time to kill yet so I walk the streets for a while. That’s another thing about this city… You can just stroll around and admire the buildings and architecture for hours on end. In other cities you can’t do that. You always run out of places to walk to or come to some hideous main road. But York has so many twists, turns and alleyways that you can just keep walking and never come across such things or even the same place twice. It’s on this walk that I miraculously find what I was looking for earlier. How I missed it I’m not sure but as I’m making my way to the ghost walk pick up point I find myself passing one particular street, somewhere near the Minster. And lo and behold, a short way down I spot a pub sign adorned with a now all too common Guy Fawkes mask. Knowing instantly what it is I wander down to take a look. And I’m right… It is what I was looking for, The Guy Fawkes Inn, the very place where he was born in 1570. It’s so small and such an innocent looking place that it’s no wonder a man can walk right past it and not even know it was there. But alas there is no time for a drink right now as the ghost walk is beckoning.
As I mentioned earlier there are lots of Ghost Walks in York… There’s the Terror Trail, The Original Ghost Walk of York, The Ghost Detective, The Ghost Hunt of York, The Ghost Trail… But this evening I am to have the pleasure of one that is simply called The Ghost Walk of York (Not to be confused with The Original Ghost Walk of York, which is different.) It starts outside a place called The Evil Eye Lounge and my thoughts are that any ghost walk starting outside a place with that sort of name has to be worth it’s salt. It looks like I’m the first to arrive so I wait on the opposite side of the street, leaning against a jewellery store.
Now by this point it has dawned on me, after seeing various reflections of myself throughout the day, that for some inexplicable reason I am ten times sexier here in York than anywhere else in the country… What causes this phenomenon I don’t know but it is confirmed to be true when this rather good looking young woman carrying a white cello case on her back walks down the street in front of me. Now she’s the sort who would never look at me twice in normal circumstances but today is different. From the smile on her face I can tell she finds me attractive. This wasn’t a one off occurrence… It happens several more times over the next few days. If I had really been trying I could have had quite the holiday romance… But I’m too absorbed in the city to even give such things a second thought. But imagine what might happen if I was here for more than a few days… I could become a sex god!
Cello girl walks on, probably forgetting all about me, and by this point other people are gathering for the ghost walk… All around my own age. There’s no one over thirty there at all. In fact the oldest person is the tour guide himself who arrives running down the street with this whippet puppy in his arms crying ‘sorry I’m late, the dog ran away…’ The tour begins and at first I’m a little wary and I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this. From the introduction it sounds like it might just be a weak bit of tourist fodder but I give it a chance and once the walk get’s going it turns out to be much better value than that expensive plate of chips. There are a couple of minor historical fluffs that I notice but overall it’s an entertaining walk presented with enough enthusiasm and style to make it good without degenerating into something that is ridiculous. It’s good enough that when the tour is over I don’t want it to end… I want to hear more ghost stories and keep walking until long dark. In fact, besides the minor fluffs, that is the only issue I have with the tour, that it wasn’t dark. If it had been dark the walk would have been exceptional. It would have more atmosphere. But you can’t have everything I suppose, especially not in June. It would probably be worthwhile doing it again in the dead of winter when it would be dark but seeing as there are so many different ghost walks in the city it would really be a shame not to try one of the others out as well, even if just to compare. But still, this one was definitely one that you might want to try if you’re ever in York.
When the tour finishes it still isn’t that late but it’s been a long day and my legs are tired and aching so it’s time to drag my super sexy arse back up to the Youth Hostel and sleep before the next day’s adventures can begin… And when I take my socks off before bed I find that on my toe I have a blister so large that it could be used as an engagement ring. Lovely!